‘Shadow of A Doubt’ or — The Enemy Within?
Well, THAT was messed up!
Poor Charlie (Charlotte) Newton is fed up. Nothing exciting happens in the little town of Santa Rosa and as its the 1940’s the teenager hasn’t quite been invented yet so Charlie’s options for fun are limited. So imagine her, er… arousal (?!), when she discovers good ol’ Uncle Charlie is coming home to visit. Yay! Uncle Charlie will soon perk things up around this boring household. Not only that but Uncle Charlie’s brought presents for everyone and is keen to deposit $40,000 at his brother in law’s bank. Isn’t Uncle Charlie just the best?
But why is Uncle Charlie coming to stay with his sister’s family? He’s a charming, handsome man of independent means who seems to be a big hit with the town’s women so why is he still a bachelor needing to stay with relatives? Not that there’s any need to be suspicious as there’s obviously a sensible explanation for all this, just as there must be one explaining the two men following him. Right, Uncle Charlie?
‘Shadow of A Doubt’ (1943) is a typical ‘man who might not be quite what he seems’ tale as we spend the film trying to figure Uncle Charlie out and just what he might be up to, because he’s most certainly up to something. Yet what puts the knot in the stomach is less any nefarious scheming but the inappropriately intense relationship between the two Charlies. Niece Charlie still adores Uncle Charlie as like an infatuated child who hasn’t quite grown up yet, and that’s fine with Uncle Charlie as he has someone he can exploit. This is a relationship way too close for comfort.
There is a queasiness at the heart of this relationship dynamic and, for me, it contains similarities to the horror in ‘Lolita’; a grown man worms his way into a family and starts eating it out from within. There’s even a mirroring of their names with Charlie and Charlie sounding very close to Humbert Humbert — solipsism and abuse seem closely related. Either way, the sanctity of the family has been breached and in a way that implies the coming of sexual and physical violence. There’s a lot, an awful lot, that is ugly going on in this film.
That ugliness is given full exposure when Charlie hears Charlie’s thoughts on women, specifically widowed women, at the dinner table. It is a display of unmitigated misanthropy which is breathtaking in its savagery and brutality and is one of the great, blistering rants against humanity. Uncle Charlie is one sick puppy! This tirade against widows, creatures Charlie sees as less than human, must’ve been even more revolting back in 1943 when America would be starting to see a rise in the number of women losing their husbands to war… and this asshole views them as wheezing animals too good for slaughter? Charlie’s a chancer, staying home to pick up the spoils, spoils he holds in utter contempt. He makes Joe Doe at the end of ‘Se7en’ (1995) seem like a philanthropist.
‘Shadow of A Doubt’ is excellent, containing all the Hitchcock ingredients you’d want — a gripping story, black humour, dynamic camera-work. But it’s got a streak of nihilism that’s eye-openingly strong, even for Hitchcock. Uncle Charlie is a worm wriggling away in the heart of American life and the American small-town family. Let’s hope he gets squished.